Parshat Shoftim 5772: Justice in Judgement or, Sgt. Friday’s “The Facts… Just the Facts”

by Moshe Burt

The third posuk of our Parsha reads;

“Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof…” Righteousness, righteousness (also rendered Justice, Justice) you shall pursue that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord, your G’d gives you.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 16, posuk 20)

This posuk follows immediately after the opening of our Parsha in which Moshe Rabbeinu urges the B’nai Yisrael;

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all of your cities — which Hashem …gives you — for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgement. You shall not pervert judgement, you shall not respect persons, neither take a bribe, for a bribe binds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 16, p’sukim 18-19)

“Rabbi Artscroll” (Acronym for The Stone Chumash, Parsha Shoftim, page 1024) cites a Rashi which indicates that the posuk emphasizes that judges must be appointed who are qualified and righteous “so that they will judge honestly and correctly.” Take notice of the loshen, of the language of the phrase, “you shall not respect persons” — letting a person’s status, financial position, position of influence in the community or dress and appearance affect judgement. This author might possibly add personal prejudice to the aforementioned list of “factors of respect or disrespect” affecting judgement.

Kind, sorta sounds like Sgt. Friday (Jack Webb) of TV series “Dragnet” fame who, when investigating, would utter the line: “The Facts…, just the Facts”

And perhaps the abovementioned citing in the Stone Chumash on the posuk “Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof…” relates to more than litigants and to one-to-one relationships within the context of the whole of Klal Yisrael.

But “Rabbi Artscroll” of the Stone Chumash provides a further jaw-dropping commentary citing from Sifrei 144 and Sanhedrin 32b on the 3rd posuk of our parsha — “Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof…”:

“Shall you pursue” rather than “shall you judge” indicates that the verse is addressed to litigants, rather than the judges. Although they [litigants] may take their case to any competent court, they should make an effort to take it to a court which has the most learned and righteous judges. (Sefer Zikaron, Mesiach Ilmim, Gur Aryeh)

Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, in his Sefer “Torah Gems” notes:

“Justice alone is not enough, because there are many types of justice, just as there are many kinds of truth. Every regime has it’s own justice. The Torah therefore stresses ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue…’, namely the justice of justice, where both the means and the end are just.” (Torah Gems, Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, Volume 3, Parsha Shoftim page 257)

With all of this talk about judgement, and not perverting judgement, in not showing partiality toward one of the litigants based on their position in the community, their financial status or the very clothes that they wear, Rebbetzin Shira Smiles provides crucial points in writing on Parsha Mishpatim in her Sefer “Torah Tapestries” on Sefer Sh’mos.

Perhaps these citings relate to today’s reality in litigating monetary matters before a Beit Din. An aggreived party takes another party to a Beit Din which he deems as most learned and righteous. But the party being sued in Beit Din says upon receipt of summons, “I’m not coming to your Beit Din, you come to mine.”

By stating this, is the other party truly interested in acquiring judgement via the most learned and righteous judges? Or is his aim to bring the litigation to a Beit Din which he deems as apt rule his way? Is his aim to get off scot-free by virtue of influence, protexia, etc.? Does the reality of kavanah (intent) in litigation before a Beit Din bear any relationship to what appears as the Divine concept expressed in the above Rashi citing?

Rebbetzin Smiles cites Sefer Sh’mos Perek 23, posuk 1 (Torah Tapestries, Shira Smiles, pages 87-89):

“Do not accept a false report.”

“…A judge is prohibited to hear the words of a litigant until his fellow litigant has arrived.” Judges are not permitted to hear a case until both parties are present and prepared to present their arguments, one immediately after the others. (Sanhedrin 7b)

Then she notes, from MeiRosh Tzurim who cites the Maharal on Sefer Sh’mos:

That as soon as a judge hears the first presentatiopn, his mind settles on the first argument being correct. In his effort to fully understand the fully understand the first litigant’s testimony, he mentally violates the initial version of the story.

The Maharal writes that as soon as a judge hears the first presentation, his mind settles on the first argument being correct. In his effort to fully understand the first litigant’s testimony, he mentally validates the initial version of the story.

…The more time between presentations. the more the first opinion dominates the judge’s mind. Understanding human nature, Hashem put a mitzvah in Torah that advises judges to hear opposing testimonies one after the other, as close together as possible.

Rebbetzin Smiles also brings a second law from our Parsha (Torah Tapestries, page 93) which works hand-in-hand with law concerning the timing of the litigants presenting their arguments and the pursuit of righteousness in judgement:

The Talmud tells us that two people cannot appear in court dressed differently, meaning one dressed simply and the other dressed extravagantly (Sefer Shemos, Perek 23, posuk 7). Either the one wearing expensive clothing must remove it and dress more horribly, or he must give the other litigant similarly expensive garments for the duration of the court case. The drastic contrast in garments might influence the judges to favor the finely dressed person or snub the poor person’s argument. The simply-dressed litigant might feel that the judges are predisposed toward his rich opponent, as Rashi explains (in a commentary on Shavu’ot 31a). Hashem is concerned that even an honest judge may be asubconsciously swayed by the obvious financial status of a litigant.

Now contrast the Torah-ideal with contemporary Medinat Yisrael’s police force, civil law and justice system — righteousness and honesty in judgement???

Case in point is one that this author cited in Parsha Re’i and has harped on often, both recently and over the past few years.

That is the SELA administration’s (the body legislated into existence to “assist” Disengagement evictees in rebuilding their lives and communities) outrageously siding with the Arab employees of former Gush Katif businesses by asserting that they “wrongly dismissed” their Arab employees. These Arabs are, this very day, pressing litigation within the Israeli “Justice (sic) System” suing the former Gush Katif Jewish employers for pitzu’im — severance pay when it was the Israeli government who forced their loss of jobs, not the Jewish employers.

So, one could ask, regarding this case of aggregious miscarriage of “justice,” whether or not SELA’s actions sound reminiscent of Eliezer’s mis-adventures at the hands of S’domite courts. In one such case, Eliezer was accosted and beaten until bloodied. When he took the assailant to court, the judge ruled that Eliezer owed the assailant for drawing his blood. Eliezer then beat the judge bloody and demanded payment from the judge be made to his (Eliezer’s) assailant so as to call things even.

And maybe the above Beit Din scenario could also be seen as reminiscent of S’domite “justice?”

Maybe, at this time in Medinat Yisrael, we have to add emphasis to that term “officers.” We see how the officers — Israel’s “Finest(sic)”, those who are charged with implementation and enforcement of “law”, i.e. apprehending wrong-doers, as well as the “Judges” of “law”, repeatedly pervert, subvert and bend the “law” through selective enforcement, selective apprehension, and how the “judges judge” through selective judgement — “justice” according to agenda. Such “justice” suits the needs of a regime under the control of a handful; the agendized elitists who dominate the ministerial bureaucracies, the universities, the print and electronic media and the few wealthy families where the financial wealth of the nation is concentrated. These socialist, leftist agendized elite have their tenacles in every Israeli governmental, educational, media and economic institution — Top, bottom, “upside down… inside out and round and round.” So, in the current state of Israeli governance and “justice”, these “officers” indoctrinate, brainwash and intimidate against both Torah and the spirit of Jewish justice.

Have we allowed the “law” to evolve into being the “law” for the law-abiding only, while law-breakers and those endoctrinated and agendized toward the socialist, leftist line get away with literal murder?

Hmm, a regime controlled by agendized elitists who dominate the ministerial bureaucracies, the universities, the print and electronic media…. and whose socialist, leftist agendized elite have their tenacles in every Israeli governmental, educational, media and economic institution? Isn’t it about time that Torah Jews got themselves unified, on the same page and took back Israel?

This author thinks a point of last week’s Parsha Re’eh; the subverted or seduced city (Ir HaNidachas), which serves as the basis for the final Mishne of Perek Cheilik of Gemora Tractate Sanhedrin, has a direct connection to the absence of “Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof…”:

“Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue that you may live and inherit the land.”

That connection is between subversion of the governed and the application of judgement based on subverted law, rather than Torah law.

The bottom-line; An honest, morally clean, straight-forward, self-respecting Jewish government would not maneuver and agendize itself into being controlled by the nations, or by the subvertors or the subverted within, and would look after their national legacy. Instead, Israel’s corrupt and immoral leaders subject and subordinate themselves and the nation to the follies their own subversion and that of others at our collective, dire peril. Thus, while the penalties of the subverted city don’t apply, it seems obvious that in faith-based governance, charges of treason may.

And at lower, local, communal levels, we tend toward litigiousness, often without “Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof…” Just look at the other guy cross-eyed and end up knee-jerk either before a Beis Din or in civil court, very often with someone’s reputation, good name, ability to earn a parnossa of any kind and other unforeseen consequences on the line. Often such litigation lacks both conclusive evidence, as well as forethought as to consequences for the other guy’s welfare. The implications for entire communities are grave even should an accusation be proven false and the accusee vindicated. Such a cavalier attitude with someone else on the line seems revealing of the capsular Gush Katif — me first and my door and my protexia at all costs. The other guy is secondary. Such a lack of “Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof…” reveals flaws in our one-to-one relationships, as well as a lack of unity within the context of the whole of Klal Yisrael.

It all runs counter to the overriding more’ of “Tzedek, Tzedek tierdof…” which seems meant to exemplify a spirit of “V’ahavtah, L’rei’echa Kamocha” — Want for your brother as you would want for yourself.

Perhaps justice and righteousness in judgement starts with us and with what we abide by or don’t abide by. Do we have strength of sufficient collective self-pride, self-esteem, principles, moral integrity and belief and trust in Hashem to wage a stubbornly righteous and tireless campaign for justice, righteousness in the state’s civil courts, the Rabbanut, Batei Dinim, between Jews and even regarding communal Rabbinic leadersahip? Do we have the solid personal conviction to go the extra mile, or miles for one’s brethren; for Am Yehudi and for Eretz Yisrael as one would for one’s self? Do we have the moral, inner strength to Take Back Israel?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage, backbone and moral stength of conviction to prevent both the eviction of Jews from their homes in all or any part of Eretz Yisrael and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem, Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos, Chodesh Tov!

Moshe Burt is an Oleh, writer and commentator on news and events in Eretz Yisrael. He is the founder and director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network and lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.